Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Blues 40-18-10   Hawks 31-29-8

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN (All Women Broadcast)

MOS EISLEY CANTINA: St. Louis Gametime

There’s not much I can add to Pullega’s wrap from Friday night. There could not have been a more clear illustration of every failing of this organization–players, coach, and front office–then puking up a game to one of the worst teams in history that you claimed you had to have because you’re trying to sell the fact that you’re in a playoff race that abandoned you long ago. The players weren’t ready, the coaches didn’t have them ready, and the front office provided a roster that couldn’t stomach the losses of a 19-year-old defenseman and another one that has played five NHL games. It feels like after that, if they didn’t before, everyone but the Hawks see them for what they are. And if the Hawks continue to ignore it, nothing will ever change.

And of course, here traipsing into town is the team we used to laugh at for never getting it, that have now gotten it while the Hawks lost the plot. You can’t help but see the symbolism and weep until you seize.

Since the Blues performed their latest third period live-autopsy of the Hawks after the trade deadline, they’ve won three of four from the New York teams and Dallas, but that hasn’t seen them pull away from the Avs for the top of the division. Colorado is two points back with a game in hand, and have the decided advantage in regulation wins so the Blues can’t tie on points. And winning the division certainly has its prize, as it’ll mean avoiding two weeks of mud in the tires against Dallas and getting a first-round matchup with whatever nitwit team finishes as the last wildcard. The Blues and Avs finish the season against each other in Denver, which could be spicy.

The only note about the Blues of interest is that in those four games since beating the Hawks, they haven’t gotten a goal or point from their bottom six. That could be a worry going forward, as last year’s torture was partly based on getting the occasional goal when they needed it from the support players.

The Blues are back at it at home tomorrow against the Panthers, a game they’ll probably view as the harder of the two so the Hawks might get to see Jay Gallon tonight.

For the Hawks, Adam Boqvist will return to the lineup but Carlsson won’t, which means Nick Seeler can continue to make Connor Murphy question every decision in life he’s ever made. Seeler had an absolute disaster against the Blues last time, because he doesn’t have the feet, hands, or brain to deal with the Blues furious forecheck. Other than that, I can’t see a problem for him.

The Hawks will try and tell us that if they win tonight, it’s still six out of eight points this week which would have been the goal anyway. And they’ll tell you they still have the Sharks and Senators up this week. They’ll tell you, while really trying to convince themselves, that it’s still on. But their performance on Friday told you what they really think. A team that thinks it has a real chance doesn’t lay that egg in the home of the biggest collection of trash and discarded gum posing as a hockey team in recent memory. They know they’re done and the second of a back-to-back was simply too much work for them to be bothered to do.

Perhaps they’ll have the decency to try and save some face tonight, knowing they embarrassed themselves on Friday. Combine that with every effort against the Blues this year being sad in its own way, and they should be somewhat inspired. Whether that matters against a genuinely superior team who actually has something to play for, well… I think you know the answer to that one.

It’s something of a landmark night, as least in broadcast terms, as NBCSN will fully broadcast and produce the game with an all-female crew. If you can ignore the large swaths of both fanbases proving how adult they can’t be, it should be enjoyable. Maybe it’ll even cause Jeremy Roenick to finally immolate himself. One can only hope.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 27-27-8   Blues 36-17-10

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN 

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED: St. Louis Gametime

So, what could be the worst thing you would have to sit through after an underwhelming though probably explainable trade deadline where you hoped the Hawks would begin to outline their future but didn’t really? And you’re feeling the deepest malaise about team and organization that maybe you ever have? And it feels like it genuinely might not ever get better due to the front office’s incompetence and blindness? Why a game in St. Louis of course! Where the once red-headed stepchild has thrown off its labels and shackles and is the defending champ and sitting on top of the West and didn’t even feel the need to do much at the deadline because hey, they’re got pretty much everything they need! Oh, and they’re on a hot streak!

Kill us.

Blues fans will tell you it’s been a rocky season for them, and they’re a bit worried about what’s to come, which makes you realize what we sounded like when we were complaining about the #2 or #4 center on a 100+ point team and the Blues couldn’t find reverse on a Soviet tank (not Tarasenko). And the Blues have missed their best player basically all season, but he’s practicing again so that’s just fucking great. The Note did lose five in a row earlier in the month, which let the Avalanche and the Stars into the discussion over the division and conference. But they’ve since won four in a row by the combined score of 13-2 and have a small cushion at the top of things again.

For the Blues it starts in net, but it’s not just Jordan Binnington anymore. He did recover from a two-month-long sneeze and has been fine in February. But with the pressure off as a backup Jake Allen has been great in his starts, so the Blues get a minimum of plus-goaltending pretty much every night.

It would be inaccurate and unfair to say that’s all they are. They’re in the top ten in possession stats or close to it, so they do most things well. They don’t score a ton but they score enough, and they get that scoring from pretty much all four lines. And all four lines are packed with speed to maintain that hellacious forecheck they have. This is the misnomer about the Blues, and one the Hawks among others bought into. Because it’s THE BLUES, people assumed they forechecked hard because they’re just so tough and hairy and drooling and whatever else. But that’s not it. They’re really fast, so they can get on you quicker than just about any team. Yes, they’re not afraid to hit you when they’re there, but you can’t do that unless you can get there. The Blues can and well in time.

The Blues don’t generate a ton, there’s not much inspiration in this lineup, but they give up almost nothing because they make it so hard to get through them to even get to their zone, much less create chances. You’re basically coughing up the puck before their zone most of the time, which is what the Hawks have struggled with twice this season in their two losses to this outfit.

Are the Blues primed for another run? You might have to prepare for that. Colorado has enough speed to weave in and out of their tie fighters, but enough on the back end? The Stars don’t score enough, even if they almost pulled it off last year. The thought that only Vegas might be able to navigate this is enough to make you puke for a day.

As for the Hawks, they’ll begin the post-Lehner and Gustafsson-era with hardly a tear in their eye. The impression you get is that the dressing room and front office was sick of Lehner’s shit, and his pouty-face the past couple weeks didn’t help. This becomes a Crawford contract-drive, though the Hawks should be lining up getting him signed tomorrow. Assuming he wants to, which isn’t a given.

What to watch? Well, this will be the hardest path Lucas Carlsson has ever had to navigate, so how he does is worth assessing. It also might be nice to see Adam Boqvist move his feet once through it. Other than that, I can’t help you.

(Oh it looks like they won’t even let Carlsson try, because Nick Seeler’s brain and feet are certainly equipped to deal with this. How many times can one defenestrate himself?)

This is our lot in life now. Providing the fodder for Blues fans to marvel at just how far they’ve come and how much has changed. And to laugh and chortle. It should be a lesson in how quickly things can change, and they could always change back. But for now we just have to eat it. Because it doesn’t matter if the Hawks win tonight. It won’t change their playoff chase, and the Blues have eyes on bigger things. Just like we used to. Perhaps that’s what hurts most. Other than the history and proximity, is this even a rival right now for the Blues? They’ll play like it, and their fans will act like it, but pretty soon they won’t even think about the Hawks.

I guess you hold onto this, because if things turn around anytime soon it’s this kind of thing that makes it sweeter. Even if you can’t picture it now.

Hockey

We can rant and rave all we want, but Jordan Binnington doesn’t have to do anything for the rest of his career and he’ll be a St. Louis legend. We’re shocked they don’t already have a statue of him next to Federko and drunk Brett Hull. He’s the only goalie to backstop the Blues to a Cup, and hence he’ll always be a God. Funny how he only had to do that once and yet Corey Crawford has done it twice here and yet a large swath of Hawks fans still think he’s worth pissing on. What the fuck is going on in the world today?

The thing with Binnington is that he’s gotten caught in that web of hockey coverage and analysis–which again, has somehow eluded Crawford even though he’s done it twice (!)–that states if you’re a goalie that’s won a Cup you’re obviously great. Jonathan Quick rode that for half a decade or more and a huge contract and he’s really been nothing more than average for almost all of his career. And while Binnington hasn’t proven to be that low on the totem pole yet, it’s a little harder to judge what he actually is.

Binnington’s rep was built last winter in January and February. In 18 starts over those two months, Binnington put up a .943 and only lost two of those starts in regulation as the Blues rocketed from last in the league to safely into the playoffs (something the Hawks are still convinced can just happen and paying no attention to how the Blues were constructed, but that’s for another time).

But from there, Binnington was…ok? He was .912 through the rest of the season, which is just a tick over league average. The narrative is that he carried the Blues on his back through four rounds, but that’s not really the case. He went .914 in the playoffs, which is fine, even good, but hardly “carrying” a team. The Jets were quitting, the Stars still can’t score, and the Sharks played without a goalie and a healthy Erik Karlsson. That’s not to belittle the Blues run (well, maybe a little), you can only play who’s in front of you, but to illustrate that Binnington didn’t have to go Roy ’86 to get the Blues to the promiseland.

It hasn’t changed much this year. Binnington is at a perfectly reasonable .913 for the season, and the Blues sit atop the conference standings. He’s gotten some help as Jake Allen has really taken to a backup role, so the Blues get no dropoff there and can give Binnington more nights off than they might have planned.

But again, it’s been streaky. Binnington was brilliant in October and November, but then woeful in December and January. So perhaps we can just conclude he’s streaky? Which probably makes him like every other goaltender on the planet, but also doesn’t make him goalie royalty either.

Which might make the summer interesting. Binnington is up for an extension as he’ll have one year left on his deal after this one. You would think that the only goalie to have a ring in Missouri at age 26 is an automatic extension for as long as possible, and that’s likely what the Blues will do. However, they were reasonable with this current two-year deal he’s on now, which he signed after the Cup win. After all, we’re talking about a player who has only been in the NHL for barely a season.

If Binnington were to snuff it in the playoffs this year, which is what Blues should be doing, he would be on something of a prove-it season next term. Which sounds strange given what he’s already meant down there. The Blues being rational? This is getting out of hand…

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-14-6   Blues 19-8-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

A HIVE OF SCUM AND VILLAINY: St. Louis Gametime

We never thought this day would come. But nothing lasts forever, especially anything good and beautiful. So for the first time, the Hawks will walk into any arena in St. Louis that houses the Blues and see a championship banner hanging above the ice. And you can be sure that any traveling Hawk fan will be made acutely aware of it repeatedly. Godspeed, you weirdos.

Things haven’t gone all that smoothly for the Notes since they swatted away the Hawks at the UC with laughable ease in the first game of the month. They’ve lost three of four, getting brained by the Penguins, Leafs, and even Sabres. They recovered somewhat by beating the Knights on Thursday, though that was more of a case of better finishing as they were on the back foot for most of the night.

Injuries have been something of a problem. Vladimir Tarasenko has been a long-term casualty, and some depth forwards like Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais (TO BLAIISSSS, WHICH WE ALL KNOW MEANS TO BLUFF), and Alex Steen have been out, though Steen will return tonight. While the Blues have useful players up and down the lineup when healthy, they don’t have a ton of depth scoring, so when Perron, O’Reilly, Schenn go cold as they have of late, the goals dry up. Thus their four goals in those three losses mentioned above.

And Jordan Binnington has dipped of late. While the Blues hold down attempts among the best in the league, the chances among those attempts flow a little more freely than they’d be comfortable with. He was better against the Knights but pilfered by the Penguins and Leafs, and the Blues need superior goaltending to get by at the moment. Sadly, Jay Gallon has picked up the slack in that vacuum, as life as a backup seems to suit him pretty well.

As for the Hawks tonight, the only change will see them swap goalies again, so Matthew Highmore will stay in over Dylan Sikura to do whatever it is he does and not do whatever it is the Hawks think he does. With the injuries around the defense sort of picks itself, and complaining about Dennis Gilbert over Slater Koekkoek is akin to two children fighting over a damp and putrid sponge. What the fuck does it matter?

When these two teams last met, the Blues found it very easy to keep their hands on the Hawks’ forehead and let them swing their arms lightly. If there’s one thing the Blues can do is follow a plan when necessary, and they chose the path of just standing up at their blue line, forcing the Hawks to dump the puck in, and wait for the chances they knew the Hawks would present. It worked to a T, and will again if they stick to it tonight. At home they might be tempted to unleash the forecheck more, which can also work against the Hawks, but it does leave the Hawks the one window of finding some space in the neutral zone if they can get through the initial wave (Narrator: They can’t).

Not that games in St. Louis were ever pleasant when the Hawks were good and the Blues were not. These were something of a Super Bowl to the Blues, and the bullshit ran high on the ice and in the stands. You were happy when they were over, no matter the result. That remains the same, but this is now the entire Blues Nation to rub the Hawks’ nose in the new arrangement of things. And they can also consign the Hawks even deeper into the muck, and one wonders if the Hawks look embarrassing against in both games this weekend just how much longer Jeremy Colliton‘s stay of execution will last.

Let’s get through it together.

Everything Else

I’m not even gonna give it a name. You know what we’re doing here.

2018-2019

FUCK YOU

Goalies: So the question isn’t whether you believe in love after love…well, I mean it kind of is. If you believe “love” is Jordan Binnington being able to repeat what he did over the final 32 games last year. And really, his regular season was a huge January and February, as he was rather ordinary in March and April, By then it of course didn’t matter. And he was good enough in the playoffs without being spectacular, as a .914 is not spectacular. In his first full season in the NHL, you can probably expect something like Matt Murray has gone through, which is very up and down and overall probably just ok.

If it’s anything worse, somehow Jay Gallon is still here. Perhaps this is what he was always meant for, with no pressure as a backup. He can probably fill this role well. It would be hilarious and a market correction if both Binnington and Allen both stained the sheets (in the bad way), but most likely the Blues are looking at no worse than solid if not song-worthy goaltending. FUCK YOU.

Defense: What really fucking sucks is that Justin Faulk, whom the Hawks should have been after for two goddamn years, is a major upgrade on Joel Edmundson, who was a rock-headed fuckstick that was over-worshipped by the inhabitants of the IQ desert down there. Now that they’ve let Alex Pietrangelo off the hook, the Blues have yet another puck mover, to go along with another season of growth from Vinnie Dunn Bag O’ Donuts Ovah Here! I’m still sure Colton Parayko is a disaster waiting to happen, except I’m still waiting. Jabe O’Meester and Robert Bortuzzo for sure are something that needed to be cleared with vinegar and baking soda, but it was enough once. If O’Meester is a healthy scratch a fair portion of the time, they’ll sadly be fine. FUCK YOU.

Forwards: Boy it must really piss the Predators off that the Blues stole their act of having only one genuine top line forward (Tarasenko) and a bunch of tweeners after that and went somewhere the Predators never have and never will. Sure, Ryan O’Reilly did a fine impression of a genuine #1 center in the playoffs, and took home the Conn Smythe as a demonstration of that. But we know what he is. But with him, Brayden Schenn, Tyler Bozak, and if Robert Thomas sees any time in the middle, they basically have three or four guys who slot between 1-2 or 2-3, so it’s just about the same thing. This corps is actually short on fuckwits and dipshits, which you would think would be illegal in West East St. Louis. But it’s young, and it’s fast. Thomas gets another year, as does Sammy “TO BLAIS, WHICH WE ALL KNOW MEANS TO BLUFF, SO YOU WERE PLAYING CARDS…”. Fabbri Robby or Robbri Fabbi or whatever is back before something else goes snap. Jordan Kyrou is going to get a full look after a pretty impressive half-season in the AHL last year and a cameo at the top level. Other than maybe Zach Sanford, the Blues are going to boast speed on all four lines. What the fuck kind of world is it when the Blues are sporting a lineup chockfull of speed both at forward and the blue line and the Hawks make the same sound as your car stuck in the mud/snow? FUCK YOU.

Prediction: With Winnipeg looking an absolute train wreck-in-waiting, the Predators possibly slipping back or at least going stale, there is no reason the Blues don’t win the division. Maybe Colorado is ready to take that big of a leap, but we’re talking about a leap of 15-20 points, which is asking a lot. Especially out of a team that has an iffy blue line, as the Avalanche kind of do. Yeah, the Blues might not have a lot of top end scoring. But they might have a wealth of second-tier scoring to make up for it. They might not have any top-pairing d-men, depending on what your opinion of Pietrangelo is. But they might have four or five 1B or second pairing guys to make up for it. The only hope is the goaltending completely drops out, but under Craig Berube their metrics were so good they can mitigate the goaltending to a point if they have to.

FUCK YOU

Everything Else

As it’s the Final, we’ll give you actual recaps instead of the smartass quips we’ve specialized in the past couple months. They’ll just take a while because we have to stop throwing up first. 

If you’re watching this series while holding your nose and just hoping that it will end quickly, then last night is what you wanted. Yes, the Bruins were a bit rusty…for about 10 minutes. After that, everything we’ve thought about the Blues-their defense isn’t that good, Binnington has been fine but hardly spectacular, and the Bruins depth and star power is better–came to fruition. One game doesn’t a narrative make, but there is a lot more the Blues have to solve while the Bruins have just been doing what they have been and will only need to continue to do so. This was a complete ass-kicking for at least two-thirds of the game.

Let’s do some bullets.

The Two Obs

-You should never take anything Barry Melrose says seriously, and the biggest clue that ESPN doesn’t care about hockey is that he remains in their employ even though I don’t think he’s watched a game since 2001 (including his coaching stint), but he wasn’t the only one who was championing this series as something of a “return.” That’s only based on what the Blues only kind of are and the reputation the Bruins have even though they haven’t been that for years. But there was this idea both teams are big and bad and the idea of a lot of fast and nippy wingers with skill aren’t the way forward and that this was TRUE HOCKEY. Horseshit.

The Blues simply couldn’t handle the Bruins forecheck, because their defense is so goddamn slow. Their only d-man who can move is Vinnie Bag Of Donuts Dunn, and he’s hurt. There were turnovers galore early, which then had the Blues defense backing up at their line when the Bruins were carrying in trying to cheat to win the races down low later. Which only gave the speed the Bruins have at forward more space to the outside to carry the puck in and create, which led to the Blues never having the puck and having tire treads to remove from their chests this morning.

But the real differences in these teams, and one we’ll get to later today that the Hawks should be paying particular attention to, is the mobility of the Bruins defense. Chara was awful, the rest were very much not. McAvoy, Krug, Grzelcyk (especially), and Clifton are all at least mobile enough to open up a passing lane for themselves to evade the Blues forecheck, which has been pretty furious at times this spring. Or they just outright get away from them, and even when the Bruins are attacking the St. Lous line three-on-three or four-on-three, the Blues defense is backing up. You want to know why the Bruins dominate possession all season even beyond the Bergeron line? There you go.

-I saw a good portion of Blues Twitter saying, “We’ll be all right when we stop taking penalties.’ Because that’s a thing that’s happened the past 30 years.

Jordan Binnington made over 30 saves, only the third time he’s had to do so this playoff run. But if the Bruins are going to toss 35 shots at him a night, this is what the Blues are going to get. 34 out of 37 saves is good. It’s not great, and that’s mostly what Binnington has done. It’ll have to be better than what the Bruins will get on the other side.

-The only unit for the Blues that wasn’t covered in their own piss by the end of the night was their top line of Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko, which got their two goals as well. The adjustment I would expect the Bruins to make is to get Chara out of that matchup, though it’s a risk to try it with Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug, given the latter’s defensive balloon-handedness. But Chara simply isn’t up to it and that much was clear, and you don’t want to be jumbling your pairs at this point.

For the Blues, playing this way of trying to trade forechecks is going to get them this. Their defense will get snowed in, the Bruins will get away from theirs, and they’ll spend the night chasing. It would seem their only option for Game 2 is to go Trotz and trap this up and make McAvoy and Krug weave through it. That would allow their slow d-men to back up at their line while still being protected and not leaving acres to the outside. Then they might have a chance of retrieving pucks and moving it along without getting clobbered. The more the Blues try to speed this up the more they’re going to get exposed.

Let’s hope for that, so we don’t have to be here long.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose, Saturday 7pm

Game 2 in San Jose, Monday 8pm

Game 3 in St. Louis, Wednesday 7pm

Game 4 in St. Louis, Friday 7pm

 

We’ve been here before. It was only three years ago. The Sharks roster is pretty much the same, though Erik Karlsson is a big change and younger players on that team have matured into stars now. The Blues roster is much different from that one. So I guess there’s no point in talking about it. Whoops. But past iterations of the Blues always matter. Because they’re the Blues. Hopefully we get the same ending. Will we?

Goalies: It would seem callous to say the shine has come off Jordan Binnington just a tad when he gave up all of two goals over seven periods-plus in the last two games against the Stars. But the Stars were terrified to cross their blue line until overtime of Game 7, so he wasn’t asked to do all that much. In Games 2-4, where Binnington saw more than 30 shots in regulation, he gave up 10 goals. So really, the expectation here is if the Blues expect Binnington to win this series by himself, he’s not going to. But he’s not going to lose it by himself either. Still, this is not a Jets team actively quitting or a Stars team that’s afraid of its own shadow offensively. He’s going to see more than 30 shots in regulation pretty much every game, or so you’d think. We’re in un-chartable territory for him. He’s going to be asked to do more, let’s say.

There was a handsome and charming blogger who predicted that Martin Jones would be this year’s Braden Holtby, and cast aside a woeful regular season to come good in the playoffs. I wish I could remember who that was. Since the start of Game 6 against the Knights, Jones has been at .921, and that includes a couple heaves against the Avs. He hasn’t been the problem all of San Jose was praying to Yahweh to fix. He’s still capable of a clanger, but while the Blues have done it through a collection, they don’t have any force like MacKinnon or Rantanen or even some of the Knights. And they’re more conservative. The Blues have only managed more than 35 shots in regulation twice in any game yet this spring.

It wouldn’t have seemed like it before the playoffs started, but this is a pretty even matchup now.

Defense: We have our blindspots here. The Bruins depth, Freddie Andersen in general, the supreme being that is Teuvo. And another thing you’ll never get us to believe is that the Blues’ defense isn’t complete shit. It’s slow and dumb and not all that skilled. And yet it was enough to repel the Jets, whatever their focus level, which should be one of the bigger arsenals in the league. It barely survived the one-line attack of the Stars, but it survived. Pietrangelo has carried the play, whether paired with Vinnie Bag Of Donuts Dunn or Carl Gunnarsson or whoever. And the rest were able to remain competent against the Stars. But I don’t buy it. When the Jets bothered, Mark Scheifele tore Colton Parayko and Joel “This Tastes Funny” Edmundson to shreds, they just didn’t try all that hard to get matchups. The Sharks are rolling with three lines scoring at the moment and I find it hard to believe that Parayko and Edmundson and Gunnarsson are going to be able to hide for a whole series. Call me crazy.

This should be a big advantage for the Sharks, but it hasn’t played that way. Brent Burns has been exposed as a complete jabbering nincompoop in his own zone this playoff run, and Erik Karlsson (however healthy he is) hasn’t been much better. The metrics suggest both are getting kind of domed. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been marvelous, but his coach keeps saddling him with Brenden Dillon who is an onion in the sun for two weeks. Joakim Ryan is good and can’t seem to find the ice, except in Game 7 overtime against Vegas which sends all kinds of mixed messages. The Sharks haven’t had any time to rest to heal up Karlsson, and Burns is Burns, so this is at-best a white-knuckle ride that breaks even for them.

Forwards: I’ll do my best to fight my biases and say the Blues are getting help across the board. I even noticed Robert Thomas for once in Game 7, even after all Blues fans kept assuring me he’s the second coming of Muhammad I’m Hard Bruce Lee instead of another word for Nick Schmaltz. Tarasenko was pretty much irrelevant against Dallas, but with the more open space San Jose will provide he probably will show up at various points. Jaden Schwartz is on a heater before something falls off of him again. Ryan O’Reilly hasn’t really been all that good in these playoffs either. You can count on continue playoff production from David Perron and Tyler Bozak if you want, I’ll just be over here pissing on my shoes.

The Sharks have the greater star power, but they’ve also been getting the same depth of scoring. Logan Couture went supernova from Game 7 in the first round on, and provides the kind of scoring-from-nothing that the Blues don’t have if Tarasenko can’t be bothered. Hertl has been just as good, and Meier, Labanc, Nyquist have all pitched in. Pavelski is back, though if he in fact knows where he is is another question entirely. Thornton’s line has been getting punched in the groin possession-wise, but they’ve managed to produce to balance that out. You just worry about the collective age here, though more at the back.

Prediction: If there was ever something about the Blues that made you thought this was the team to punch through, now is probably the time. Here’s the other thing about the Blues: they’re the Blues. There’s nowhere I can point to and say they’re definitely better than the Sharks right now. What they do have going for them is they’re younger, so the lack of rest for either probably affects them less. But still, while the San Jose power play hasn’t caught fire yet other than that one time, you know they’re going to get plenty of chances with this collection of unbathed nitwits and fuckwads running around. Parayko, Edmundson, and Perron are probably good for one killer penalty each this series. I don’t really believe much in Pete DeBoer, and he needs to stop pairing Karlsson and Burns together except late in the 3rd when the Sharks are behind. So maybe the Blues have an edge there? You’ll have to go a long way to convince me that Craig Berube is General Cornwallace during a game, though. And if Karlsson or Burns or both can actually start turning things up the ice, those are weapons the Blues just don’t have.

You can’t run from your nature. Sharks in six. 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Wednesday in Winnipeg, 7pm

Game 2 Friday in Winnipeg, 8:30

Game 3 Sunday in St. Louis, 6:30

Game 4 April 16th in St. Louis, 8:30

While everyone…ok, everyone in Toronto, might bitch about the playoff format, you can’t argue that the 2-3 matchups provide a fuckton of intrigue. Across the board here, three of the four of those look like they’ll be long, competitive, fun series, with only the Pens and Isles being the exception because Trotz will turn it into a local council meeting. And it will probably still be competitive. This one might be the hardest to call, because it’s hard to know what the fuck the Jets have been doing and it’s hard to know what the Blues really are. It probably comes down to whether Jordan Binnington waked up and realizes he’s Jordan Binnington or not. This one feels like it’s going the route.

Goalies: Again, Jordan Binnington. He’s been simply cosmically good since finally wresting the starter’s job from Jake Allen when the Blues couldn’t force-feed it to him anymore. He’s the main reason the Blues went from worst to a pubic hair within the division title. Another reason they almost did is the Jets and Preds could never really get going.

Still, it’s Jordan Binnington, who even St. Louis Gametime hadn’t heard of before he came up and those fuckers literally have nothing else to do but sit and think about the Blues and try and craft statues of Stan Musial out of their own ear/toe wax. Maybe he is this good, and he keeps rolling. But he came unstuck a little in the season’s last month, with only a .912 in March and April. That’s better than league average, but you wonder if league average is enough when the Blues are still basically one line and the Jets are three and a half.

Jets fans have been bitching about Connor Hellebuyck all season, it’s what they do to keep warm. And he’s been fine rather than the really good he was last year. .913 is not .924, but it’s still better than average. Hellebuyck wasn’t helped by his defense, but he also didn’t bail them out as much as he should have. He had one of the higher expected save-percentages in the league and didn’t live up to it. But as we stated when the Jets were here last week, they’ve been horrific defensively for a good portion of the season. It’s unlikely Hellebuyck wins this for the Jets, but it’s just as unlikely he loses it.

Defense: We have a policy of never being impressed by the Blues defense. Alex Pietrangelo is fine, but he’s never been the all-conquering heir to Chris Pronger everyone wants you to believe he is. Colton Parayko, Jabe O’Meester, Joel Edmundson actively suck. Robert Bortuzzo is an ox. They’re finally letting Vinne Bag O’ Dunn run around, which gives them a puck-mover they’ve never had since Kirk ShattenKevin fucked off. But they play a style that doesn’t ask these guys much more than to get in the way, and they keep it pretty well shielded. Again, they won’t wow or impress you, but their mistakes never amount to what you think they should. The Jets forwards are awfully deep and awfully fast and certainly big enough where the Blues drooling on them isn’t going to make them quake. And yet it never works that way.

The Jets have their own problems. They’ve been a shit-heap back there for most of the season. Paul Maurice hasn’t shown any inclination to try and change things. Josh Morrissey will return for this, which is a boon as in the past he and Trouba have done the mine-sweeping to let Dustin Byfuglien and his large cowboy act to take the stage. The Jets have played worse than their talent suggests, even if I think Tyler Myers is a puppet show for the truly bewildered. And yet you can’t trust them, can you?

Forwards: The big advantage for the Jets. While the Blues revival came with greater offense, it mostly came from one line containing Ryan O’Reilly’s hero act and Vladimir Tarasenko taking time out from trying to get yet another coach fired to actually playing. He usually brings it in the playoffs, at least when he’s not yelling at Ken Hitchcock. And I expect him to do the later even with Hitch in absentia.

But beyond that, there isn’t a lot. You count on David Perron if you want. All I see is a stupid third period penalty in waiting. They keep boasting about Robert Thomas. I’m not sure I’ve seen a shift of his I remember. Jaden Schwartz isn’t playing with the quality of players that makes him a weapon. ROR and Tank can probably score just enough where they only need the occasional chip-in from someone else.

But against the Jets, that’s not enough. They may suck to high heaven defensively but this is still the deepest forward crop found in the West. I know Laine has had a truly weird year. He’s also capable of putting up 10 goals in a series. The Jets boast at least three lines that can hurt you and a pretty productive fourth line as well. They will find the weak spots in the Blues defense.

Prediction: It really comes down to can the Jets outscore whatever damage their defense is doing to themselves. Strangely, these teams haven’t seen each other since the first week in December, so it’s hard to see what the leaky Jets look like against the new St. Louis Blues. They’re not going to make it simple, but there’s too much firepower for the Jets and I can’t see Hellebuyck being bad enough to not at least hold them up just close enough for the offense to get over the wall. But it’s going to take a while.

Jets in seven. 

 

Everything Else

 vs.

RECORDS: Blues 43-28-8   Hawks 34-33-12

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

GROSS: St. Louis Gametime

It’s finally over, people. The Hawks desperate, somewhat sad though fun, and always futile lunge/leap/hail mary for the playoffs is now over. Death came a callin’ last night when the Avs won, and now it’s time for this season to journey to the other side. Peachy keen.

There will be plenty of time for the autopsy, for the criticism, for the investigation. For now, I guess we just stare and be somewhat surprised that it’s only the last three games that will be totally meaningless. Because there was a time when it sure looked like the last three months would be. Then again, that’s a criticism of just how bad the West was this year, because in a normal year the Hawks would have never sniffed a playoff spot, much less held one for about 45 minutes. For now, let’s just say that it was all in front of the Hawks, they had it in their own grasp, and they weren’t able to close their fingers around the easiest playoff spot to grab in a decade or more. Someone should pay. No one will.

Which makes for a distinct contrast to the team they face tonight. The Blues sat with the Hawks as the wooden-spooners of the entire league right after January 1st. They were last in the entire NHL. Since then they’ve ripped of a 27-9-4 to this point, which has them within one win of being tied with both the Jets and Preds. Think about that my beautiful babies. In three months, the Blues went from last in the league to being in with a shout of winning this damn division. That’s how mediocre the division has been, but that’s also how much they’ve turned things around.

A huge part of it is Jordan Binnington, whom the Blues handed the job in January in a true “what-fucking-ever” gesture after Jake Allen for the 18th straight year watched the role dribble under his arm and into the net. Binnington has gone .928 since, including a .936 in January and a .945 in February. He’s mostly responsible for this revival. Who knows if it’s real, but if Binnington doesn’t wake up anytime soon, and considering the state of the West, there’s really no telling how far this could go. There’s something to make your avocado toast come back up, huh?

But it isn’t all just Binnington. Interim coach (for now) Craig Berube has gotten the Blues back to their Hitchcock-levels of shot and chance-suppression, while not sacrificing offense totally to do so. Ryan O’Reilly, whom the Blues got for a fucking song the Hawks probably could have easily matched if they weren’t so busy thinking Anisimov and Schmaltz were fine down the middle, has freaked off for 38 points in 41 games in 2019, And he’s brought the give-a-shit of Vladimir Tarasenko from the red to the black, which is no small task as Tank seemed dead set on playing and bitching his way out of town.

Jaden Schwartz and David Perron finally finding some healthy has helped as well, and Brayden Schenn being able to move to ROR’s wing is another boost.

At the back, Berube finally figured out, which Hitch and Mike Yeo couldn’t, that Colton Parayko nor Alex OrangeJello are puck-movers, and moved Vinnie Dunn Bag O’ Donuts up to the top pairing to be that guy. He responded with nine points in March alone, and keeps Colton Burpo and Jabe O’Meester away from spots where they can do harm to themselves or society. When Dunn is out there the Blues can actually get up and go, which is a real change.

It’s not totally fair to compare the Blues to the Hawks. The Blues were built to compete this year in the summer, where the Hawks were built to take up space. But the Blues did identify a weakness, center, and didn’t just half-ass in trying to patch it up. They brought in O’Reilly and Bozak, who’s been fine. They saw a coach who wasn’t working and the team wasn’t listening to and finally canned him, but the new coach actually was able to implement some changes for the better. None of that has happened here, and it truly is a cold and scornful world where it feels like the Blues have more of an idea of what they’re doing than the Hawks do. But it’s hard to see it otherwise right now.

As for the Hawks, it’s time to just see it out. Corey Crawford will get a rest tonight, and it honestly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sit the rest of the year. There’s really nothing to be gained from him playing, and now that the Hawks have finally got him healthy and at least in the area of being Crow again, what’s the point of chancing it? Dennis Gilbert has been called up to get a look-see, mostly to reward him for a good season in Rockford. And hey, he’ll keep you from having to watch Gustav Forsling tonight.

The only things that matter now happen at the draft and July 1st. Until then, we’re just killing time.

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It’s kind of amazing what happens when your organization shows urgency and never stops doing so. While John Cooper should win the Jack Adams Trophy for Coach Of The Year for presiding over a historically good team, Craig Berube is going to have a serious case. It was just after the new year when both the Hawks and Blues were at the bottom of the NHL. While the Blues have a better roster, one of them responded properly, One of them responded by goofing a power play for a matter of weeks. But it’s not as if the Hawks couldn’t have had Ryan O’Reilly if they so desired.

On January 5th, the Blues were 16-19-4. They’ve gone 27-9-4 since. And by every measure, they’ve greatly improved. If the argument is that it took Berube a couple months to instill his changes to Mike Yeo’s “system” (and we were never sure what it was), then this proves it. After six weeks, the Blues apparently had it down. Do the Hawks have Colliton’s? You know the answer to that one.

The Blues, before and after January 5th, are up or down as they should be in every metric category. They take more attempts, they give up less. They create more scoring chances and give up less. And perhaps most importantly, they are utterly dominant when it comes to high-danger chances, their percentage ranking best in the league and the amount they surrender ranking second. Systematically, the Blues are better across the board.

And yet…and yet…It’s hard to ignore that the Blues SV% at evens before that January 5th mark was .902, which is below league average. That’s when Jay Gallon was once again being crowbarred into the starter’s role he’s spent years trying to prove he’s not up for, like a toddler in ill-fitting clothes. Finally, they switched to Jordan Binnington, for lack of any other option. Since then, their SV% is .940. You can’t ignore that sort of thing.

And the question becomes is this just a coming-of-age from Jordan Binnington? Or a once-in-lifetime heater from a career nobody? The hunch is the latter.

Binnington had never showed anything like this at any level. He never showed much in his OHL career after being a third-round pick eight years ago. He dipped down to the ECHL for half of a season, where he put up a decent .922. But he never managed more than a .916 in the AHL until a 28-game loan to the Providence Bruins two years ago, where he put up a .926. He started the year in San Antonio just as strongly, and the Blues must have figured why not? They had nothing to lose at that point. Still, a .928 overall was just no something anyone could have seen coming.

And Binnington might already be straining a touch. After his unconscious January and February, Binnington sank down to a .912 in March. But of late he’s beaten the Lighting and Knights, so who knows what the hell is going on?

In reality, this is closer to what the Blues were supposed to be doing before the season than their bottomed-out performance for the first half of the year. This roster was engineered to make a run, and just spent the first half sputtering and wheezing. Perhaps it was just being free of Yeo and his unpredictable moods from day-to-day, or the connection he still had to Ken Hitchcock. He also allowed Vinnie Dunn to be the puck-mover the Blues simply have never had, and never even really considered having. Whatever it is, Berube has provided a structural change to the Blues, and then was in position to benefit from Binnington’s heater. Must be nice.

 

Game #80 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built